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January 21, 2000
Police seek community's help about charges against Silicon Valley landlord
R S Shankar
As the Berkeley police investigate more complaints against Lakireddy Bali Reddy, a Silicon Valley restaurateur and landlord, who is charged with luring three young girls -- one of them 15 -- into living with him, the police are asking the Indian community's help across America to provide them with specific details of sexual abuse allegedly committed by Reddy.
The police have set up a special telephone line, 510 644-6062, for this purpose. Maitri, a women's support group started by novelist Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Internet entrepreneur Radha R Basu, is asking help from the community to help not only the two girls who lived with Reddy, but others who may have been victimized by him.
Maitri can be reached at 888-862-4874.
One of the three girls, Sitha, died of carbon monoxide poisoning on Thanksgiving Day.
Reddy's attorney Ted Cassman stoutly denied the charges against his client, asserting that Reddy "is a long-standing, law-abiding citizen of Berkeley," and "everybody who knows him know that these charges are not true."
Reddy was in a jail near San Francisco and Cassman said his client was "in total shock and disbelief."
If found guilty, Reddy could face more than 10 years in jail and deported to India.
Reddy was the landlord of the building in which the three girls lived. "Parents" of Sitha and her younger sister, who had migrated with them to America a few months ago, lived in a building nearby. This week, when Reddy, reportedly the biggest owner of rented buildings in Berkeley, was arrested and charged with, among other things, trying to set up a prostitution ring, the police revealed that the woman who said she was the girls's mother is actually their aunt.
Venkateswara and Padma Vemireddy, Sitha's "parents", had told ethnic newspapers soon after her death that Reddy had been good to them and helped them. The father had also said it was his karma that the girl had died.
Court documents show that Padma Vemireddy is not Venkateswara Vemireddy's wife, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, adding the woman was Vemireddy's sister, Lakshmi
In earlier reports, Reddy was said to be in his 50s. The police say he is 62.
The police have also said that Reddy brought workers from India to work in Pasand Madras, his Silicon Valley restaurant and real estate business at little or no pay. Some of those workers reportedly tipped the police about Reddy's alleged illegal activities.
"The worst part of it is that some of the women including some minors, were sexually molested by Reddy," according to Captain Bobby Miller. He said "this could be the tip of the iceberg," adding that the police had no idea where it would end. Saying the case is much larger than what the Berkeley police department thought it was, he said "it could touch several cities, several counties, even other states."
The Indian community in Berkeley is perplexed by the charges; some cannot believe them, having known Reddy for a long time. Many, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said for a long time they had heard whispers about his business ventures, but when Sitha died in November, other stories began to circulate about him.
"Some of us thought he was old enough to be the grandfather of the girls," said a businessman. "And we could not fathom why he was living with them while the parents of two girls were made to live in another building."
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